In the last week, I have been trying to live inside one of my major characters, detailing his life so that I understand his motivations, outlook and action in life better. Not much luck. He is a Japanese man in his sixties, who has lived all his life in Japan. I was able to construct a chronology for him with no trouble – a nice list of dates and events in his life. But I could not make him come alive in my mind. I thought it was just the pressure of time – I have been worried about things in my consulting practice: more precisely about the lack of things (three months of marketing with no new business). But it was more than that.
Last night, I finished reading one of the books on Japan (“Tokyo Underworld: The Fast Times and Hard Life of an American Gangster in Japan” by Robert Whiting) and started another (“Tokyo” by Donald Richie). As I read them I discovered the source of my failure. Richie’s book on Tokyo in particular helped me become aware of the distance between my view of life, and the likely view of a man who has experienced much of Japan’s turbulent change since the end of the Second World War.
My setting in my character in Japan is reflecting something that I want, not something that I know. I have always been fascinated by Japanese culture, but have never experienced it first hand. My desire to experience it has infected my writing so far on this book. I developed a plot which included family connections to Japan. When it came time to live inside the current head of my Japanese family, I could not do so.
I don’t have any real experience of day to day family life set in Japan to fuel my imagination. The reality of Japanese life day to day life is so far from what I have known and lived that I do not know how to begin to imagine it. And when I do,I create a figment of my imagination. I have no way of knowing how well this figment reflects the actuality of Japanese life over several decades. What I am doing is akin to creating a world from scratch. Doing so is not aligned with the story that I am telling in this book. This book is grounded in real life, since I believe that this is essential to exploring the motivations of my characters.
All of this woke me up at 2:30 AM this morning. Images of Japanese life were swirling in my mind, but I knew that I did not know if they reflected anything real. They were pure fig aments of imagination, not the creations of imagination grounded in my experience of life.
I had a problem.
Fortunately, my imagination came to the rescue. By 3:30, I had reconstructed the outline of my novel in my mind, dropping the Japanese family connection, but preserving the sense of Japanese connection that I want for my main character. I also came up with a way to transplant the sixty year old Japanese man to Northern Ontario in a way that utilizes my research into Japanese life, but still allows me to access his marital arts skills and outlook on life. I felt good about that. Now I just have to re-draft about one hundred pages of text to line with this new direction. The joys of wanting to be a writer.